Higher education opens the door to unique learning opportunities and experiences that allow students to follow their dreams and launch successful careers. But for some students, the cost of a college degree can hold them back from accessing these opportunities and reaching their full potential.

UofL is committed to increasing access, affordability and equity for students of all backgrounds so they can take advantage of learning opportunities and follow their dreams without a heavy financial burden. By expanding and increasing funds for the Cardinal Commitment Grant, including additional states eligible for the Border Benefit award and investing in merit-based scholarships, UofL is removing financial barriers to college for students who go on to strengthen the community and state.

“In order for the commonwealth to be strong, we need an educated population. So particularly as a public university, we need to step up and find ways to make attending UofL affordable,” said Jenny Sawyer, executive director of admissions. “We might not be in a position to totally erase debt, but we are doing everything we can to minimize it.”

In the past few years, Cardinals have graduated with the second-lowest student debt among all Kentucky four-year public universities. With expanded affordability programs, made possible through funds from increased enrollment, UofL will continue changing the game for students of all backgrounds, helping them find success through a college education and reach their potential without assuming overwhelming debt after graduation.

“We’re dramatically increasing aid, going to a 20% increase in need-based aid,” said Jim Begany, vice president for enrollment management.

Closing the gap

That increase in need-based aid means UofL is investing $2.4 million toward the Cardinal Commitment Grant in 2024. The grant helps to close the gap between eligible Kentucky students’ financial aid and the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, dining, transportation, books and other expenses.

“With this grant, we’re making a commitment to Kentucky residents,” Begany said. “We want to put a college education within reach of all of the Kentucky students we enroll into the university, so now even students who might qualify for merit-based aid can also receive this grant.”

Previously available only to Pell Grant students, the Cardinal Commitment award expanded to include students with financial need who do not qualify for Pell Grants. All first-time freshman Kentucky residents who have been accepted to UofL and have a demonstrated financial need based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are eligible for the automatic Cardinal Commitment Grant.

“Part of our mission is to move the needle on social mobility and really attract first-generation, low-income students and others by which a college education could transform the lives of not just them but also their generations of family and family members,” Sawyer said. “This grant allows students to really maximize the opportunities at UofL and puts them in a position to not just be able to afford to go to school, but also afford to have a deep, impactful experience while they’re here.”

Freshman biology major and first-generation student Elienai Moreno Ramirez

Freshman biology major and first-generation student Elienai Moreno Ramirez is one of the students who benefited from the expanded Cardinal Commitment Grant and is paving the way to a transformative life for herself and her family.

Ramirez moved to the U.S. from Cuba at 8 years old and worked hard to learn English and excel in her studies, leading her to graduate as valedictorian from local Waggener High School. Now, she is striving toward her dream of becoming a doctor as an honors student at UofL and leading the way for her three younger siblings to find their own success through a college education.

“Without the grant, it would have affected not only me but also my family. I was thrilled to be able to say, ‘See mom, you don’t have to go into debt for me,’” Ramirez said. “Having that financial support to back me up and being able to show my family a path they can walk through themselves one day is so rewarding. It’s amazing to go through these moments to show my younger siblings we can all do this.”

Taking high achievers to new heights

UofL’s efforts to make college affordable also draw in high-achieving students through expanded investments in merit-based, competitive scholarships such as the Grawemeyer Scholarship, McConnell Scholars, Martin Luther King Scholars, Woodford R. Porter Scholarship and Henry Vogt Scholarship programs.

These niche scholarship programs encourage research, innovation and intellectual curiosity at the university and help attract students who took rigorous high school curricula and are committed to creating positive change in the commonwealth and beyond.

“These awards are focused on attracting students we think will make our campus a
better place,” Sawyer said. “For instance, the Vogt Scholarship is focused on local
students with strong academic records who have also made significant contributions to
their communities outside the classroom.”

Benji Kostic, a Vogt Scholarship recipient, is a first-generation American whose parents moved to Louisville as refugees from Bosnia.

Benji Kostic, a Vogt Scholarship recipient, is a first-generation American whose parents moved to Louisville as refugees from Bosnia. The biology major, who will graduate in May, works in clinical research at the Norton Leatherman Spine Center and as a chemistry tutor at UofL and hopes to one day become an orthopedic surgeon.

“The Vogt Scholarship allowed me to explore various opportunities at UofL because I didn’t have a financial burden,” Kostic said. “I was able to join clubs and get involved without also getting a job to pay for my schooling. It made me feel very free.”

Kostic used that freedom to cofound the nonprofit Homeland Project, which he is working on turning into a club to continue on after he graduates.

“We’re focused on helping refugees and immigrants learn English and how to go to the grocery store or the doctor, how to survive and live and assimilate to American lifestyle,” he said. Kostic says his parents found similar support when they moved to Louisville, which inspired him to pay it forward for others.

“My parents always instilled in me to give back to the city that gave to them,” he said. “Louisville has given my family so many opportunities and I want to give back to
Louisville, too.”

Extending affordability across the state lines

Students from outside Kentucky can also access an affordable education at UofL through the Border Benefit program, which gives residents of select bordering states and metropolitan areas the chance to attend UofL at in-state tuition rates.

Beginning in fall 2024, the Border Benefit award will expand to include transfer and
first-time college students in all counties in Ohio and West Virginia. The award already is available to students from all Illinois and Indiana counties, select Ohio counties and some counties surrounding the Nashville and St. Louis metropolitan areas.

“We want to give students that are coming from different parts of the country, particularly within our Border Benefit areas, the opportunity to come at our in-state tuition rate,” Begany said. “We’re eager to help more students find success and earn their college degree without an overwhelming financial burden.”

Students residing in regional areas can receive an estimated $16,000 per year award, which reduces their tuition to the equivalent of Kentucky in-state tuition. In fall 2023, Border Benefit students made up over 13% of the incoming freshman class.

Setting up success

Though there may be more work to be done to make higher education more affordable
and accessible to all students, UofL is making strides to eliminate financial barriers
and empowering students to strengthen their communities after graduation.

“When the university began to invest in merit-based aid about 25 years ago, we changed the profile of who our student body was and that increase in our number of high-achieving students has made us a leader in competitive scholars across the U.S.,” Sawyer said. “As you have more students with strong desires to do research and learn, the more opportunities open up for all students to grow.

“When I see the types of things our students are going out to do in the world after graduation – whether it’s cancer research or building new businesses or becoming doctors – I know our efforts are worth it.” 

Caitlin Brooks
Caitlin Brooks is a communications and marketing coordinator in the Office of Communications and Marketing. Brooks joined OCM after earning her Bachelor of Science and Master of Art degrees in Communication from UofL. Brooks previously worked as a graduate assistant and public speaking instructor at UofL and is an avid Disney fan.